This week in France, there were not one, not two, but many social strikes and demonstrations. The demonstrators included truck drivers, post office employees, oil workers, street cleaners, Parisian airport employees and, finally, the French police themselves. Some of these marches were peaceful – so, of course, they’re not worth talking about. What everyone is focused on, however, is the violence and growing intensity of these movements.
The Molotov cocktails, tear gas, rocks and other projectiles being used in the streets of Paris turned certain parts of this beautiful city into domestic war zones. A police cruiser was set on fire by a few demonstrators who made sure (at least) that the police themselves had time to get out of the car before the smoke invaded their vehicle. France is in the midst of social chaos – it is a country full of frustrated, angry, young and old men and women. It is certainly not the only country in crisis at this time, but it is the one I am trying to understand.
I was watching the news on one of the most socially-chaotic days of this week as the journalist went over the “Strike Agenda”. He gave a rundown of the who, what, why, where and when of the social movements – it was a long list detailing the parts of Paris to avoid. I had a sudden thought about how calm the newscaster seemed even though he was obviously discussing a country that was “out of control”. He was showing footage of hooded trouble makers breaking store windows and throwing stones at people’s heads. He announced that more than 350 French police officers have been injured in demonstrations in 2016 alone. I was stressed out just listening to him and thought about staying in my pajamas all day. Then, he talked about someone peaceful – Deepak Chopra.
Deepak Chopra just happened to be speaking in Paris on May 17th at the Grand Rex theatre, a famous venue usually reserved for movies and musicians. Mr. Chopra, a meditation, wellbeing and human relations expert, who is also a celebrated author, was to
give a conference on “How to Live Better Today and Tomorrow.” He wanted to meet the French public after the horrible events of 2015 to “share an overall global review of ourselves and our future.” The conference was to be followed by a group meditation led by the guru himself. They even showed a short interview with Deepak while he was walking around Paris the day before. When the reporter asked him what he thought would help with the unrest in France, he answered simply that the French should learn how to meditate. A little bit of calm energy and introspection seemed like a good anecdote to the volatile tension in the Parisian air. So I got out of my pajamas and set my sites on Deepak’s meditation instead of the social madness.
I didn’t think there would be any problem getting a ticket to the conference given the public transportation strike and the feeling I had that the Parisians were just not a meditative bunch (especially not this chaotic week). But I was wrong. I tried on both the web and by phone and could only get the highest priced ticket – at 150 Euros (about the same in US dollars). Now, that was a high price to pay for silence and introspection but I thought I might be able to find a cheaper one at the Grand Rex just before the show. So I headed out.
In the end, I couldn’t get there because of the very reason I wanted to go there in the first place. I wanted solace from the social turbulence but the social turbulence got in the way. Roads were blocked so buses could not circulate; the metro was stopped.
I tried walking for a while but saw pink smoke in the distance and changed my mind. I carefully treaded back home and put my pajamas back on.
I read the next day that more than 2,000 people attended Deepak’s conference. I don’t know how they managed to get there but I’m glad there was some peaceful karma in the Parisian air this week. Wish I had had enough money and enough foresight to be part of the Meditation instead of the Madness.